Environmental Context

Technological Choice

Technology & Environment

Appropriate Technology
Inappropriate Technology
Technology Transfer

Clean, Green Technology
Social Shaping of Technology
Case Study: Clean Production
Site Map

Back to Main Menu

Technological Choice
Technology and the Environment

What is Appropriate Technology?

Appropriate Technology is technology tailored to fit the psychosocial and biophysical context prevailing in a particular location and period

sun dial

eg British Economist E.F. Schumacher
Intermediate Technology:
methods and machines
room for creativity
small scale


Attempts to invent and design different types of technology that are compatible with democratic, egalitarian societies and that do not favour powerful interest groups in society are not new. The appropriate technology movement which blossomed in the 1970s attempted to do just this. Appropriate technology has been defined as 'technology tailored to fit the psychosocial and biophysical context prevailing in a particular location and period' (Willoughby 1990, p. 15). It was designed not to dominate nature but to be in harmony with it.

Appropriate technology involves attempting to ensure that technologies are fitted to the context of their use&emdash;both the biophysical context which takes account of health, climate, biodiversity and ecology, and the psycho-social context which includes social institutions, politics, culture, economics, ethics and the personal/spiritual needs of individuals.

One of the best-known early proponents and popularisers of appropriate technology was the British economist E. F. Schumacher, who talked about 'intermediate technology' in his book Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. He was principally concerned with development in low-income countries, and recommended a technology that was aimed at helping the poor in these countries to do what they were already doing in a better way. Schumacher's intermediate technology had the following characteristics:

  • methods and machines cheap enough to be accessible to anyone;
  • small-scale application&emdash;individual smallness allows nature to recover, is more sensible because human knowledge is patchy, and is an appropriate scale for self-help;
  • room for human creativity, as opposed to alienation and dehumanisation.

During the mid-1970s, the appropriate technology movement expanded from its initial focus on low-income countries to consider the problems in industrialised high-income countries. Advocates of appropriate technology were concerned about social as well as environmental problems. Robin Clarke (1974, p. 35) outlines four motivations for the appropriate technology movement:

  • They were concerned about the mass movement of people out of the countryside and into the cities that was occurring all over the world.
  • They wanted to ensure that development in low-income countries benefited the poor, preserved local cultures and made best use of local resources.
  • They were concerned about the ecological crisis and wanted to see people reintegrated with natural systems.
  • They were concerned about the way science and technology had taken over all other forms of knowledge and activity.

Clarke differentiated between the appropriate technology response and the 'technological fix' responses to environmental problems. For example, he characterised the technological-fix response to pollution as 'solve pollution with pollution control technology'; the appropriate technology response, instead, would be to invent non-polluting technologies. Similarly, the technological-fix response to exploitation of natural resources was to use resources more cleverly; the appropriate technology response was to design technologies that only used renewable resources.

The appropriate technology movement has been going for more than twenty years in many countries, and today involves an extensive network of organisations, projects and field experiments, and an identifiable literature of its own. Despite this, it has failed to influence the pattern of technology choice exercised by mainstream society. Kelvin Willoughby, a US scholar who has studied this movement, points out that it has:

achieved a modestly impressive track record of successful projects which lend weight to the movement's claims. Despite these facts, however, together with the appeal and commonsense nature of the movement's core ideas, the movement has largely failed to evoke the transformation of industrial and technological practice in most countries in accordance with the principles of Appropriate Technology. In other words, while becoming a significant international movement Appropriate Technology has remained a minority theme within technology policy and practice. (1990, p. 12)

Back to top...